mea culpa

Let me apologize that I haven’t posted in a while. I started a new full-time job in September and it’s been keeping me very busy; other than missing my previous mornings of leisure, I absolutely love it.

But the title of this post isn’t for ghosting my blogging duties, but for a bit of foolishness on my part which kept me from enjoying great coffee. Let me explain.

The past few years I passed a coffee cart set up on the sidewalk near my work pretty much every day, but I never considered trying it because c’mon, a cart? Pfffft! I should have known better after coming across a great mobile coffee rig in Dublin last summer, but no.

Not long ago I reconnected with my freshman counselor from college, who works nearby, and he sang the praises of this cart and its proprietor, Sami. Uh-huh, I blithely said. Finally, about a month ago a colleague told me he was running for a coffee and that Sami was the man, so okay, I thought I’d try it.

And what an arrogant schmuck I’d been.

First thing to know about Sami’s cart is there is always a line. People who work across the street at the Pan American Health Organization and the US State Department are religious customers who come in waves, so you’re probably going to have to wait. Second thing to know is that the hours are limited. Due to the vagaries of DC street parking regulations, Sami is usually open for business only from 9:30 or 10am to around 3pm, and sometimes doesn’t set up if the weather is particularly wet because it makes his generator a bit wonky. Sami always posts updates when he opens, when he closes, and when he’s staying home on his Twitter feed.

But if you can find yourself at 22nd and Virginia in DC’s Foggy Bottom, have 10 or 15 minutes to stand in line, and it’s the right time of day, you’re in for a treat. For a small cart you get the full gamut of coffee and tea drinks. Espresso drinks, drip coffee, non-dairy milk alternatives, matcha, hot, iced, flavored syrups, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, cinnamon, you name it. I’m no fan of Yelp, but the uniformity of positive reviews is practically amazing. Want to pay cash, no problem; want to use a credit or debit card, no problem; start patting your pockets looking for that fiver you could have sworn you had with you, and you’re likely to get a genuine offer to pay the next time you stop by.

I’ve greatly enjoyed the coffee on every visit, it’s fantastic. Sami uses beans from venerable local roasters Swing’s Coffee, prepares espresso on a Casadio Undici 2-head compact commercial machine by Grupo Cimbali running off a generator powered by a propane tank. He makes my quad shot macchiato a little differently than I’ve seen elsewhere – first two shots, milk, second two shots – which bypasses any latte art but doesn’t do anything detrimental to the flavor. This also helps him stay efficient, which is key for a one man band with a lot of people waiting. I’ve also found the caffeine hit from his coffee is particularly strong, though the taste doesn’t beat you over the head.

But what’s quickly turning me into a regular isn’t just the coffee, and it isn’t just the dearth of decent options nearby. It has a lot to do with Sami himself.

Sami is originally from Eritrea, and he’s proud to tell you that he’s been bringing his cart to this location for over 17 years. He’s even more proud to tell you that he’s had some repeat customers coming back from day one. You come by more than once and he remembers you, and he is genuinely delighted to see you. He’s usually got music playing, something with a joyful beat. He’s sweet natured, he’ll talk as little or as much as you want, and he just plain loves what he’s doing. Sami’s always smiling and happy and it’s infectious. All of that is why I’m coming back, that’s why he has so many devotees, and that’s why you’ll stand in line for a while and feel privileged to do so.

So I’ve learned my lesson. I shall leave my high horse in the stable from here on out. Because you never know where you’ll next find a great cup of coffee.

Sami’s Coffee Kiosk
corner of 22nd Street NW & Virginia Ave NW, Washington, DC

2 thoughts on “mea culpa”

  1. Sold! And with the same excuse of busy time at work you started with, let’s meet there this week!

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